14 Covid burdens stitched on quilt


Gillian Rebelo, the quilt project organiser with Stella Makena and Karen Mbayaki hold a Covid-19 quilt art. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

The Covid quilt is a work of art. It is a collective creation of more than 14 Kenyan women from self-help groups who, among other things, do embroidery as both an advocacy and an income-generating exercise.

The quilt sends a message for vaccination. At least that was the idea that the founder of The Advocacy Project, Ian Guest, had hoped the quilt would convey when he suggested the women embroiders create artistic images of the trials they have faced during the pandemic.

“The quilt will circulate schools, churches, community groups, wherever there’s a discussion about the value of vaccinating people to protect them from the virus,” says Gillian Rebelo, who is the liaison between Mr Guest who is based in Washington DC and the women based in informal settlements in Kangemi and Kibra.

“I wasn’t sure what Gill was asking us to do when we first met,” says Karen Mbayaki, leader of the Kangemi Advocacy Self Help Group.

“She was offering to teach us skills in embroidery but many of us already knew how to embroider. But when she explained we would receive a stipend every time we met, that was an incentive for women to join in,” she adds.

Stella Makena leads a group of 11 women from Kibra who has also helped created the Covid quilt.

“We have a lot of self-help projects, but this one has been special. We brainstormed ideas together before we created the images that we embroidered,” she says.

“Ian [Guest] contacted me in 2019 since I was chairperson of the Quilt Group of Kenya at the time,” says Gill. “He told me a UNFPA conference was coming up soon in Nairobi and as his project works a lot with embroiderers and quilters, he wanted me to find women who could help create a quilt for the conference,” she adds.

Undaunted by the fact that she only had eight weeks till the conference, Gill set out to first find and train the women, then get their ideas about what would go onto the quilt, and finally produce it in time for the conference.

“Skills training was primarily depicting the plight that Kenyans have suffered since Covid came. The images portray everything from children taking their classes under a tree to homes being congested places where no one has worked, no funds are coming in, and children are stuck inside with no books or internet.”

The images also reflect the way public transport services have taken advantage of the lockdown. Their fares have gone up while the number of buses circulating has gone down.

Then there are images of everything from a daughter mourning her dad, a wedding filled with all empty chairs, and an airplane leaving people stranded since all flights were cancelled.

Then there is the beggar who is bypassed by everyone who is nearly in the same situation, the cop pushing people around, and the healthcare worker trying to save lives. It is a masterpiece portraying people’s actual suffering.

“We hope the quilt will send the message to Kenyans that the vaccine can help to bring the pandemic to an end, so get vaccinated,” Gill adds.